Image: FPL

An underground powerlines pilot demonstrates improved supply reliability for Florida Power & Light (FPL) and its customers.

FPL launched its Storm Secure Underground Pilot Programme two years ago following the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The goal, which other utilities similarly affected elsewhere also are pursuing: to find cost effective ways to replace the neighbourhood overhead powerlines with more reliable underground lines in targeted communities.

During that storm and in others, trees and vegetation coming into contact with overhead powerlines and equipment were found to be the leading cause of outages.

As of October, FPL reports having completed more than 160 projects in the programme with more electricity service resulting throughout its 35-county service area. More than 80km of overhead lines have been placed underground in the pilot.

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More than 100 additional projects are under construction.

“The Storm Secure Underground pilot is one of the many ways we demonstrate our commitment to continuously improving the safe and reliable power we provide to our customers,” said FPL senior vice president of power delivery, Manny Miranda.

“As we prepare to put more neighbourhood powerlines underground in the coming decade, we are learning valuable lessons from the pilot that will benefit all of our customers for years to come.”

FPL anticipates that between 300 and 700 neighbourhood powerlines will be placed underground annually from 2021 to 2023 as part of the 10-year Storm Protection Plan approved by the Florida Public Service Commission.

Among lessons FPL says have been learned from the pilot is identifying more efficient design and construction practices based on real-world experience. Another is minimising disruptions for customers by using technology such as ground-penetrating radar to detect and avoid underground facilities such as telephone lines or water pipes.

Design and construction efficiencies have been identified by evaluating projects at the feeder level rather than selecting stand-alone neighbourhood powerlines. Cloud-based technology has been introduced to better customer outreach and construction projects.

Florida Power & Light Company serves more than 5.1 million customer accounts across the state of Florida.